Parsis Of Calcutta Celebrate New Year

At the last count — and that was some time ago — there were 565 Parsis in this city, a once-thriving Westernised community known for its industriousness, integrity and love of the good life. So as usual, the Zoroastrian New Year’s Day or Navroz, Papeti, or Pateti celebrated on Friday, went unnoticed by most people.

The day began with Jashn at 9.30am at the fire temple on Metcalfe Street, where the community gathered for thanksgiving prayers presided over on this special occasion by four priests. The children wore new clothes but it was the bonhomie that mattered most. The sandalwood contributed by individuals on this day started a crackling blaze in the giant urn in which the holy fire is kept alive all the time.

Thereafter they had a community breakfast at the temple when they partook of malido papri, which is basically puri with suji halwa. The prasad known as chasni comprising uncut fruit was also eaten. That was on the house.

They also had akuri, which is an egg dish that is like scrambled eggs, only spiced up with onions and chilli. The breakfast has become more elaborate now. They met at home in the afternoon, and in the evening they went to see the Parsi Natak titled Mamavaji (in other words, maternal grandfather) Not Out that was being staged at Gyan Manch. A second show will be held for the Gujarati community that enjoys these comedies.

Years ago, men played the roles of women but now the mixed-gender cast is getting younger every succeeding year. But the problem is that few good plays are being written. The celebrations ended with the contributory dinner at the Olpadvala Memorial Hall on Chowringhee, where one could pick and choose from the menu.

Earlier, before Bombay Sweets on Bentinck Street had closed shop, a special sweet in the shape of a large fish used to be made on this occasion. The Parsis had adapted many of the ways and the customs of the country they have called their home for more than 500 years. Hence like the Bengalis, they consider fish auspicious as well.

The piscine motif is prominent in the delicate chalk powder rangoli or chawk, as Parsis call it, on the floor outside the entrance of every Parsi household. This, along with the toran or garland of flowers on the door, are meant to usher in the new year.